12 July 2024

A search for the lost
mediaeval Jewish
communities and
synagogues in Bedford

The High Street in Bedford was the heart of mediaeval Jewish Bedford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

On my bus journeys between Milton Keynes and Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week, I visited both Luton and Cambridge, and In Luton I went in search of the town’s Jewish history and the story of its Jewish communities and synagogues.

Although Luton is the largest urban area in Bedfordshire, Bedford, with a population of about 100,000, remains the county town. It is 74 km north-west of London, 40 km west of Cambridge and 27 km north-east of Milton Keynes.

Bedford is home to one of the largest concentrations of Italian immigrants in Britain, with estimates that about 30% of the population at least is of partial Italian descent.

The town has a large variety of places of worship, including Saint Paul’s Church and Saint Peter’s Church, the largest Sikh gurdwara in the United Kingdom outside London, and the former headquarters of the Panacea Society, founded in 1919, which believed that Bedford would have an important role in the Second Coming of Christ and that Bedford was the original location of the Garden of Eden.

However, there is no longer a synagogue in Bedford. Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue, which was formed in 1967, is based in Luton although it meets in Bedford once a month, and the nearest Orthodox synagogue is the Luton United Synagogue in Luton.

Bedford had a mediaeval Jewish community until the mass expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. Mediaeval Bedford was one of the 26 centres in England to have an archa. These archae were official chests, provided with three locks and seals, and they held and preserved all deeds and contracts of the Jewish communities.

The archae were part of the reorganisation of English Jewry ordered by Richard I following the massacres of Jews in England 1189-1190. During the riots and massacres after his coronation, the mobs had destroyed Jewish financial records, resulting in heavy losses of Crown revenues.

The archae were introduced to safeguard royal interests in case of future disorder. All Jewish possessions and financial transactions were registered in designated cities. In each city with an archa, a bureau was set up with two reputable Jews and two Christian clerks, under the supervision of a new central authority known as the Exchequer of the Jews.

Bedford was one of the original cities with an archa. Other centres included London, Canterbury, Lincoln, Norwich, Oxford, Winchester and possibly Bristol, Cambridge, Gloucester and Northampton or Nottingham. The centres had increased in number to 27 by the mid-13th century. By the time of the mass expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, Jews had already been excluded from eight of these centres and only 19 archae were active.

The earliest record of Jews living in Bedford dates from 1185, when Jacob of Bedford and Solomon of Bedford paid substantial sums to King Henry I to recover debts. From then on, the names of Jews from Bedford occur sporadically in the records, with some Jews migrating to other places, such as Hitchin, Thetford and Essex.

A decade later, Fleur de Luz, a Jewish woman, was one of seven members of the Jewish community in Bedford who contributed £1 8s towards the ransom of Richard I in 1194, under the provisions of the Northampton donum – the equivalent of up to £2 million today.

Bonefard of Bedford, a Jew in Bedford, was accused in 1202 of causing the death of a child named Richard, a nephew of Robert of Sutton, by ‘ementulating’ him. This was probably a case of conversion to Judaism on the part of Richard. It was tried before a jury of the Hundred and Bonefard was acquitted.

Jews in Bedford suffered from violence during the Barons’ Wars in 1263 and again in 1274, and three Jews were hanged for coin clipping in 1278.

It appears the Jews in 14th century Bedford lived on the High Street. When Jews were forcibly expelled from England in 1290, Jewish-owned property in the High Street in Bedford passed to the Crown, including two messuages on the High Street belonging to Cok Fil Benedict and Pictavus.

His name indicates that Pictavus was an immigrant from Poitou. One of his two sons, Benedict fil’ Pictavus, was baptised in Ely; the other son, Jacob, was hanged for felony, and his messuage on High Street was given by the king to the town crier of Newnham.

By the River Ouse in Bedford … Jews began resettling in Bedford in the 1780s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Jews began resettling in Bedford in the 1780s, although the first modern congregation was not established until 1803, when it was formed by Michael Joseph. This early synagogue followed Ashkenazi Orthodox ritual. But little is known of the congregation, its synagogue or its officers, and it was closed and services were discontinued in 1827.

Nevertheless, it seems there was a continuing Jewish presence in Bedford, and it seems to have been traditional that willows from the Great Ouse were sent to London at Sukkot for use as lulavs.

A second modern Jewish congregation was formed in 1837, and Moses (Morris) Lissack, a ‘teacher of languages and dealer in jewellery', was living in Bedford by 1839. The congregation met only on the solemn festivals, and a private room in Offa Street, Bedford, initially served as the place of worship.

The synagogue was located on High Street in Bedford by the 1850s. However, it had only five known members, including Godfrey Levy, who presided over the congregation in 1853. His son Lewis Levy was the last secretary of this congregation. He received his authorisation as shochet in 1832 and in 1862 he performed a marriage ceremony.

The synagogue had only three seat-holders by 1874. It became defunct by the 1870s and was dissolved. Moses (Morris) Lissack, the teacher and jeweller, who had been living in Bedford in 1839, was the only Jew in Bedford in 1879.

In the early 20th century, Bedford Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1903. It followed Ashkenazi Orthodox ritual, and although it was an unaffiliated congregation, it was under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi. The Revd Daniel Caplan (1879-1959) was the Reader and Shochet from 1903 until about 1906. Alfred Newmann was President from about 1903 to 1907 and treasurer around the same time. No address is listed for this congregation, its final listing in the Jewish Year Book was in 1906-1907, and it had come to an end by about 1907.

Yet, the Abrahams family, the best-known Jewish family in Bedfordshire, was living in Bedford by the early 20th century. The father of the family, Isaac Abrahams, was a Jewish immigrant from Polish Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. He was a financier and settled in Bedford with his Welsh Jewish wife, Esther Isaacs.

The eldest son was the physician Sir Adolphe Abrahams (1883-1967), the founder of British sport medicine; he was knighted for helping refugee doctors to gain permission to practise in the UK. The next son, Sir Sidney Solomon ‘Solly’ Abrahams (1885-1957), was a British Olympic athlete and long jumper, and Chief Justice of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Harold Maurice Abrahams (1899-1978) was an English track and field athlete. As an Olympic champion in the 100 metres sprint in 1924, his feat depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. Harry Abrahams reported from the 1936 Berlin Olympics for the BBC, exuberantly covering Jack Lovelock’s win in the 1500 metres. His daughter reported that Abrahams had sat close to Hitler and had said afterwards: ‘I wish I’d shot him.’

At the beginning of World War II, with an influx of evacuees, a congregation was re-established in Beford yet again in 1939 as Bedford Hebrew Congregation. The Jewish population in Bedford soon included over 400 families who were evacuated from London, and the congregation included evacuees, refugees and military personnel, as well as some resident families

This too was an unaffiliated congregation under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi. The rabbis in Bedford in the 1940s included Dayan Dr Julius Jakobovits, about 1941, and Rabbi A Rappaport, from at least 1945 until about 1947.

Julius (Yoel) Jakobovits (1886-1947) was born in Lackenbach (then in Hungary, today in Austria), the son of a rabbi and brother of two rabbis. He studied in Pressburg (Bratislava) and in Berlin. Later the synagogue in Berlin where he was the rabbi was destroyed on Kristallnacht in November 1938. After Kristallnacht, he found refuge in Britain but was briefly interned on the Isle of Man.

After his release, he was rabbi with the Bedford Hebrew Congregation. He then served two neighbouring evacuee communities in Windsor and Slough, and in 1945 became Dayan at the London Bet Din. He was the father of Lord (Immanuel) Jakobovits (1921-1999), Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1949-1958) and later Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth (1967-1991).

S Orgel was President of the Bedford Hebrew Congregation ca 1945-1947. However, no address is listed for the congregation. The community did not have a synagogue and survived through the endeavours of a small number of people. Numbers began to dwindle again after World War II, and the congregation was practically dormant from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, so that it was not even listed in the Jewish Year Book from 1948 to 1963. After that services were generally held only on high holy days.

John Trevax was honorary secretary of the congregation ca 1945-1947. A Rochlin was honorary secretary ca 1964-1971 and chair ca 1971-1978, and RJ Berman was honorary secretary from 1978 until the 2000s. The congregation came to an end by the early 2000s, and it ceased being listed in the Jewish Year Book in 2012.

There is no longer a synagogue in Bedford, and the nearest Orthodox synagogue is the Luton United Synagogue in Luton.

Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue or Rodef Shalom Synagogue was formed in 1967. Initially, it met mainly in St Albans and from time to time in Bedford. Since 1982, it has been based at Luton, where most services are held, with most events taking place in members’ homes. Jewish life in Bedford has seen a renaissance recently with regular monthly services under the auspices of the Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue.

‘Reflections of Bedford’, a sculpture by Rick Kirby on Silver Street, represents the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in Bedford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
64, Friday 12 July 2024

The High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon … the venue for this week’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). I am back in Stony Stratford this morning, having spent much of the week at the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, taking part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection in connection with this week’s USPG conference;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

‘I am sending you out like sheep … do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say’ (see Matthew 10: 16, 19) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Matthew 10: 16-23 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 16 “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you at that time, 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Sibling will betray sibling to death and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in this town, flee to the next, for truly I tell you, you will not have finished going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Many of the rooms and features at High Leigh remain unchanged since the days when the Barclay family owned the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

This morning’s reflection:

I have spent much of this week at the High Leigh Conference Centre on the western fringes of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The house was once the home of the Barclay family, and during the week, I have been reminded of that family’s Quaker roots, their social conscience and generosity, and their later commitment to the life and mission of the Church of England.

With its beautiful Victorian façade, extensive parkland and landscaped gardens, High Leigh could easily provide the location for a television period drama. Its tranquil and spacious setting makes High Leigh popular, yet delegates at conferences also find the time and space to relax and unwind and for reflection.

High Leigh was originally built in 1853, and was bought in 1871 by Robert Barclay (1843-1921), a successful banker and committed Christian. He was born in Walthamstow, Essex, the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay and Mary Walker Barclay. Over the generations, his ancestors had married into many other prominent banking families, and he was responsible for merging 20 banks into Barclay’s Bank.

Robert Barclay’s ancestors were Quakers, but he was an Anglican, and his family also played key roles in the life of the Church of England. He married Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (1848-1911), a granddaughter of the 19th-century reformer and anti-slavery campaigner, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and she too had many Quaker ancestors in the Gurney and Fry families. They had a large family that included CMS missionaries.

Much of the original 19th century manor house at High Leigh and its period features remain unchanged, including the Woodlands Lounge and the Oak Room.

High Leigh is also known for its gardens, covering 40 acres of beautiful countryside in Hertfordshire, with parkland that is dotted with formal areas, woodland, lawns and ponds. Some of the house’s most prominent outdoor features were created by the Pulhams, a family of landscape gardeners who owned Pulham Manufactory in nearby Broxbourne. It is thought the Pulhams themselves worked on the design and installation of many of the pieces in the garden at High Leigh.

When Robert Barclay died in 1921, the house was sold to First Conference Estate of which he had been a director. First Conference Estate, now known as Christian Conference Trust, was founded in 1909 with the express purpose of providing affordable facilities for various missionary and other Christian societies. The Hayes at Swanwick in Derbyshire was opened in 1910 and High Leigh opened in 1921.

One of the curiosities of USPG’s charters is that ex-officio incorporated members of the council include the Lord High Almoner. The office was held from 1946 to 1953 by Edward Sydney Woods (1877-1953), Bishop of Lichfield (1937-1953), whose wife Clemence Barclay (1874-1952) was a daughter of Robert Barclay of High Leigh. She was born at High Leigh, and they were married in Hoddesdon in 1903. The story is told that Bishop Woods had the distinction of being one of two survivors of a German air raid by hiding under a dining table with Ann Charteris, the future wife of Ian Fleming.

The Chapel Barn at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 12 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘United Beyond Borders.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with reflections on this week’s USPG conference by Rachael Anderson, Senior Communications and Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Friday 12 July 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for all those who feel lonely and excluded. Who feel like they are on the outside looking in. May we do more to be welcoming and understanding that we are all equal in God’s eyes.

The Collect:

Eternal God,
who made Benedict a wise master
in the school of your service
and a guide to many called into community
to follow the rule of Christ:
grant that we may put your love before all else
and seek with joy the way of your commandments;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful God,
who gave such grace to your servant Benedict
that he served you with singleness of heart
and loved you above all things:
help us, whose communion with you
has been renewed in this sacrament,
to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ
and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The bell tower above the entrance to the High Leigh Conference Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

11 July 2024

Sent out in mission with
USPG from High Leigh,
‘to embrace each other
and grow together in love’

The High Leigh Conference Centre in this morning’s sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The USPG conference in High Leigh this week came to an end after our ‘Sending Eucharist’ today. Many theologians speak of mission as sending. The South African theologian David Bosch says the ‘classical doctrine on the missio Dei’ is rooted in ‘God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit’ and ‘the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.’

He writes in Transforming Mission: ‘Our mission has not life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission. Not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone … Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.’

He says: ‘To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.’

So, ‘Sending Eucharist’ was an appropriate description of our closing worship today at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. As the ‘Sending Eucharist’ came to a conclusion, we were sent out with a ‘Sending Out’ prayer from Common Worship Times and Seasons:

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, will you dare to walk into God’s future, trusting him to be your guide?

By the Spirit’s power, we will.

Will you dare to embrace each other and grow together in love?

We will.

Will you dare to share your riches in common and minister to each other in need?

We will.

Will you dare to pray for each other until your hearts beat with the longings of God?

We will.

Will you dare to carry the light of Christ into the world’s dark places?

We will.

Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini, who presided at the Eucharist, has been leading the Bible studies throughout the week. The new chair of USPG, Bishop David Walker of Manchester, was the preacher. I was invited to lead the intercessions alongside Carol Miller, the USPG Church Engagement Manager.

Art work by Ukrainian refugees in Poland illustrated the cover of the ‘Sending Eucharist’ at the USPG conference today (Photoraph: Patrick Comerford, USPG/Rachel Weller, 2024)

In our Bible study earlier this morning, Bishop Dalcy led our discussions with the passage: ‘He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10: 18).

She challenged us with five questions:

1, What is your understanding of the phrase defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing’?

2, How does this understanding shape your ministry approach to the vulnerable and marginalised in your context?

3,What practical ways can the church apply to minister to the vulnerable and marginalised in today’s context?

4, How can you implement the principles of justice, love and compassion found in Deuteronomy 10: 18 to create a community without borders?

5, What challenges or hindrances might you face in living out the call to embrace justice love and compassion as you minister to the vulnerable and strangers in your context, and how can you overcome them?

Her closing comment this morning was a quotation from Nelson Mandela: ‘I am because you are.’

Bishop David Walker of Manchester took office as chair of USPG later this morning when he chaired a panel discussion at which we asked ‘What’s Next?’ and ‘Can we unite beyond borders?’ The panellists included many of this week’s speakers.

We began this morning with Morning Worship led by George Hesketh from Liverpool, a member of the Tsedaqah Community (Triangle of Hope), a missional community based at Liverpool Cathedral and made up of young people living together in community for a year.

I am now on my back to Stony Stratford. I took a train from Broxbourne to Cambridge, and now there are bus journeys to Bedford and to Milton Keynes before I get home.

A walk in the woods at High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
63, Thursday 11 July 2024, Saint Benedict

An icon of Saint Benedict (right) and Saint Francis (left) in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge … Saint Benedict is remembered in the Church Calendar today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). Today, the Church remembers Saint Benedict of Nursia (ca 550), Abbot of Monte Cassino and Father of Western Monasticism.

I have been staying this week at the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) began on Tuesday (9 July). The conference continues until lunchtime today (11 July). I hope to visit Cambridge again later this afternoon before catching a bus through Beford and Milton Keynes back to Stony Stratford later this evening.

But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection in connection with this week’s USPG conference;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

‘Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts’ (Matthew 10: 9) …old coins in an antique shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 7-15 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 7 “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse those with a skin disease; cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff, for labourers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Some of the resources and materials at the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

This morning’s reflection:

The USPG conference in High Leigh continues until lunchtime today. We begin this morning with Morning Worship led by George Hesketh from Liverpool, a member of the Tsedaqah Community (Triangle of Hope), a missional community based at Liverpool Cathedral and made up of young people living together in community for a year. The Triangle of Hope links the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, the Diocese of Liverpool in the Church of England and the Diocese of Virginia in the US.

Tsedaqah is a Hebrew word that means ‘righteousness' or ‘to do justice', the very reason that the community was formed. The instruction in Micah 6: 8 inspires its mission as a community. Community members seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, values echoed in the words of the Tsedaqah Prayer.

After breakfast, the Bible study is led once again by Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini, who is leading the Bible studies throughout the week.

Later this morning there is a panel discussion that asks ‘What’s Next?’, followed by our ‘Sending Eucharist’, when I have been invited to take part in leading the intercessions.

Some of the resources and materials distributed at this week’s conference and that we have been invited to take back to our dioceses and parishes include United Beyond Borders: Migration And Movement, a new five-week study course for churches, clergy, study days or small groups. It explores migration and the global movement of people, with stories from the world church, including Filipino migrants in London, internally displaced people in Maynmar, human trafficking in Brazil, regugees making the journey from Calais, and life on the margins for people displaced by natural disaster in Malawi.

Revive was formerly known as Koinonia and has been named to capture the spirit and energy of life at USPG, with stories about people from around the global church who inspire USPG with God-centred action. The latest Spring edition includes features on the Revd Thandu Noketshe, his wife Bulewa, and their family’s exchange from South Africa to the Caribbean, an international and ecumenical conference in Freiburg on racial justice, and a consultation in Tanzania on human trafficking.

Resources being produced for later this year include the 2024 Harvest Appeal inviting parishes or dioceses to provide essential support to improve food security and economic resilience in Zululand. It is built around the story of ‘Grace’ who collects runner beans from a farm in the Diocese of Zululand.

Evening lights at the High Leigh Conference Centre … the venue for this week’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 11 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘United Beyond Borders.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with reflections on this week’s USPG conference by Rachael Anderson, Senior Communications and Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Thursday 11 July 2024) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the time and fellowship at the USPG conference. May partnerships and friendships new and old develop and flourish.

The Collect:

Eternal God,
who made Benedict a wise master
in the school of your service
and a guide to many called into community
to follow the rule of Christ:
grant that we may put your love before all else
and seek with joy the way of your commandments;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful God,
who gave such grace to your servant Benedict
that he served you with singleness of heart
and loved you above all things:
help us, whose communion with you
has been renewed in this sacrament,
to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ
and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside the Chapel Barn at the High Leigh Conference Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

10 July 2024

Making Christian mission
disruptive and challenging
the links between mission,
violence and oppression

Professor Kelly Brown Douglas with the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor of USPG at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Christian mission is disruptive and it must come alive, according to the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, when she challenged us today to rethink our paradigms of mission, and to think again about how the old models of mission were related to violence and oppression.

She was the keynote speaker this morning at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), with the theme of ‘United Beyond Borders’. She is a leader in womanist theology and racial reconciliation, the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral.

Professor Brown Douglas asked us to think what just peace looks like. For her, forging a just peace means rethinking mission, and a shift from mission that is focussed on the conversion of individuals. In the past, mission has made victims of the recipients of mission that was part of colonialism, making them easy theological excuses for exploitation, often with racist aspects.

She linked the cultural and structural violence of imperialism and colonialism with the rise of white right Christian nationalism, and said the past model of mission was antithetical to building the kingdom and a world characterised by a just peace.

True mission is not about thrusting a particular culture and way of life on people, she said, but is about fostering the kingdom of God, the Missio Dei and a loving and just world that is characterised by a just peace.

Christian mission requires we listen to and understand the perspective of the victims of the conversion paradigm of mission and the violence that went with it. Violence breeds violence, she said, insisting violence is never initiated by the oppressed but is initiated by those who oppress.

We were challenged to think about how do we foster justice and the values that underpin justice and peace-making, the justice that God desires, and how do we live them out. This is the work of Christian mission, and it is not a project or event but a way of life, we were told. We heard that we are compelled to rethink mission and to create new models of mission that opens us to being just peacemakers in our world. ‘This is what spreading the good news of the Gospel is about … this is the work of Christian mission.’

The bell tower at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, was the keynote speaker this afternoon. He is originally from Michigan and has also worked with the Taizé community in France.

He spoke of his works along border lines and his day-to-day experiences in Calais. His work is supported by USPG, the Diocese of Canterbury and the Diocese in Europe.

He spoke of the distress of a family he heard about last night who were separated from their four-year-old child, and did not know whether the child was still alive or dead. ‘It cannot keep going on like this,’ he said. The child was found in a hospital in London this morning, but it is not always like this, and he spoke of two seven-year-old girls from Iraq who had drowned.

The reality is so different from the political rhetoric, he said. Too often people were spoken of as statistics. Referring to the language of reports in newspapers, he suggested we should not think that refugees are being dehumanised – it is we who are being dehumanised. We need to take fear away from the conversation, he said.

The refugees have experienced war, torture and injustice, they have been pushed back and teargassed at borders, yet they hold onto hope. People who have lost their own children have treated his child like their own family. ‘They shouldn’t have to face death again to be able to claim asylum.’

He spoke too of the work of Maria Skobtsova House, in the heart of Calais, offering sanctuary and hospitality to vulnerable refugees in the spirit of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Maria Skobtsova, ‘Saint Mary of Paris’.

He encouraged us to continue hoping and continuing our small efforts, and quoted the poem ‘Stubborn Ounces’ by Bonaro W Overstreet:

(To One Who Doubts the Worth of
Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)

You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favour of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

Our Bible study this morning was led once again by Dr Dalcy Badeli Dlamini, Bishop of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She looked at the idea that ‘for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3: 26-28, NRSV).

Bishop Dalcy is the second woman bishop in Eswatini, and she is leading the Bible studies throughout this week, bringing fresh perspectives on leadership, faith and community.

Looking at the cross, she reminded us that the vertical line draws us up to God, while the horizontal line calls us to reach out to one another. We are called to put aside any differences that society has dictated to us.

She then asked us to consider five questions:

1, What do you understand by the phrase ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ in the context of Galatians 3: 26-28?

2, How does being ‘children of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ in Galatians influence your understanding of unity and equality in your context?

3, How can the church integrate the message of unity and equality in Galatians 3: 26-28 in its daily interactions and ministry with people from different religious and social status?

4, What practical steps can you take to overcome conflicts and divisions in our churches/contexts today?

5, What measures can the church put in place to reflect the unity and equality Paul speaks about in the passage of scripture?

Once again, there was a choice between three workshops this morning:

1, Beyond borders: Gender Justice female Leadership in the Anglican Church – this workshop was an invitation to explore the opportunities, strengths, and challenges for female leadership in the Anglican Church. The facilitators were USPG’s Senior Regional Managers Fran Mate and the Revd Davidson Solanki.

2, The Past in the Present: Mission, Empire and Racial Justice – this workshop explored the legacies of a history marked by slavery and racism that offer unique possibilities in the present. The facilitators were Dr Jo Sadgrove, the Revd Dr Evie Vernon and the Revd Garfield Campbell.

3, Seeing Differently – an interactive workshop using a real-life case study to recognise and reveal attitudes leading to exclusion of others in plain sight, drawing on the experiences of Gypsy Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches workshops.

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire … the venue for the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The USPG conference began yesterday in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and continues until tomorrow.

The annual meeting of the council of USPG this afternoon included the appointment of new trustees, reports on the vision and strategy of USPG, and reports on USPG’s work in Rethinking Mission, Energising Church and Championing Justice as the global mission agency, transforming mission thinking, practice and solidarity at the heart of the life of the Anglican Communion.

There were reports on USPG’s work with partners across the Anglican Communion in many areas, including theological education, economic justice, human trafficking and climate change. Staff members, including new members of staff, spoke of the diversity of their work and key highlights from the last six months, including this year’s Lent Appeal and a new website due to be launched in the weeks to come.

Today opened with morning worship led by Derby Guerrier from Haiti, and members of the Tsedaqah Community (Triangle of Hope), a missional community based at Liverpool Cathedral and made up of young people living together in community for a year. The Triangle of Hope links the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, the Diocese of Liverpool in the Church of England and the Diocese of Virginia in the US.

Tsedaqah community members work in a variety of social justice projects across the Liverpool City Region, in conjunction with the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool and Liverpool Cathedral.

Tsedaqah is a Hebrew word that means ‘righteousness' or ‘to do justice', the very reason that the community was formed. The instruction in Micah 6: 8 inspires its mission as a community, and community members seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This passage from Micah was also the reading at our Evening Worship.

This morning’s worship included a prayer for immigrants from Pope Francis:

Merciful God, we pray to you for all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life. Though many of their graves bear no name, to you each one is known, loved and cherished.

May we never forget them, but honour their sacrifice with deeds more than words. We entrust to you all those who have made this journey, enduring fear, uncertainty and humiliation, in order to reach a place of safety and hope.

Just as you never abandoned your Son as he was brought to a safe place by Mary and Joseph, so now be close to these, your sons and daughters, through our tenderness and protection. In caring for them may we seek a world where none are forced to leave their home and where all can live in freedom, dignity and peace.

Merciful God and Father of all, wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering, and free us from the insensitivity born of worldly comfort and self-centeredness.

Inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, to see that those who come to our shores are our brothers and sisters.

May we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, and recognise that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to you, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.

We were also invited to respond to a prayer from the Jesuit Father Dan Hartnett:

God of love and compassion: may we always recognise your spirit:

• in the refugee family, seeking safety from violence;
• in the migrant worker, bringing food to our tables;
• in the asylum-seekers, seeking justice for their families;
• in the unaccompanied child, traveling in a dangerous world.

Give us hearts that break open whenever our brothers and sisters turn to us.

Give us hearts that no longer turn deaf to their voices in times of need;

Give us eyes to recognise a moment for grace instead of a threat.

Give us voices that fail to remain silent but which decide instead to advocate prophetically.

Give us hands that reach out in welcome, but also in work, for a world of justice until all homelands are safe and secure.

The impaled arms of the Barclay and Buxton families in High Leigh … a reminder of the Barclay family who once owned High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
62, Wednesday 10 July 2024

‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority’(Matthew 10: 1) … the Synaxis of the Apostles’, an icon in the church in Panormos, east of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and the week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). I am staying this week at the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) began yesterday (9 July) and continues until tomorrow (11 July).

Later this evening, undoubtedly, I shall find an appropriate place to watch the England v Netherlands semi-final in Germany, and appropriate company to share the excitement and anxiety. I remember when England and the Netherlands last met in a fixture like this it was 1996 and I was on holiday in Crete, staying in Mika Villas in Piskopianó, in the hills above Hersonissos. But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection in connection with this week’s USPG conference;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The 12 disciples in an icon of the True Vine in the church in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 1-7 (NRSVUE):

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not take a road leading to gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan town, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’.”

The Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas is the keynote speaker at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning

This morning’s reflection:

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) began yesterday in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and continues until tomorrow. The conference theme this year is ‘United Beyond Borders’, and I am reflecting on the conference in this prayer diary throughout this week.

Today begins with morning worship led by Derby Guerrier from Haiti, a member of the Tsedaqah Community (Triangle of Hope), a missional community based at Liverpool Cathedral and made up of young people living together in community for a year. The Triangle of Hope links the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, the Diocese of Liverpool in the Church of England and the Diocese of Virginia in the US.

Tsedaqah community members work in a variety of social justice projects across the Liverpool City Region in conjunction with the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool and Liverpool Cathedral.

Tsedaqah is a Hebrew word that means ‘righteousness' or ‘to do justice', the very reason that the community was formed. The instruction in Micah 6: 8 inspires its mission as a community. Community members seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. These values are echoed in the words of the Tsedaqah Prayer.

The conference Bible studies later this morning are being led once again by Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini, Bishop of Eswatini in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She is the second woman bishop in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and she is leading the Bible studies throughout this week, bringing fresh perspectives on leadership, faith and community.

The Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas is the keynote speaker this morning. She is a leader in womanist theology and racial reconciliation, and is the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral.

Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, is the keynote speaker at the conference this afternoon. He works along border lines and his day-to-day experience of ministry in Calais is expected to bring many of this week’s discussions to life.

I have a choice between three workshops during the day:

1, Beyond borders: Gender Justice female Leadership in the Anglican Church – this workshop is an invitation to explore the opportunities, strengths, and challenges for female leadership in the Anglican Church. The facilitators are USPG’s Senior Regional Managers Fran Mate and the Revd Davidson Solanki.

2, The Past in the Present: Mission, Empire and Racial Justice – this workshop explores the legacies of a history marked by slavery and racism that offer unique possibilities in the present. The facilitators are Dr Jo Sadgrove, the Revd Dr Evie Vernon and the Revd Garfield Campbell.

3, Seeing Differently – an interactive workshop using a real-life case study, to help us recognise and reveal attitudes leading to exclusion of others in plain sight, and it involves Gypsy Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches workshops.

Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, is the keynote speaker at the conference this afternoon

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 10 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘United Beyond Borders.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with reflections on this week’s USPG conference by Rachael Anderson, Senior Communications and Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Wednesday 10 July 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for all who are gathered for the USPG conference. Give wisdom to all who speak and grant that all attending have open hearts and minds.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Creator God,
you made us all in your image:
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The logo of the Christian Conference Trust, which runs the High Leigh Conference Centre, in reception area at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

09 July 2024

A week of breaking
down the barriers and
opening the gates
with USPG at High Leigh

Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini leading the Bible study at the USPG conference in High Leigh today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on image for full-screen viewing)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) got under this morning in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and continues until Thursday.

This week’s conference theme is ‘United Beyond Borders’.

The conference opened this morning with a welcome from the General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, and with worship.

Duncan spoke of his recent visit to Calais to see the work of a joint refugee action project between the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG. The project seeks to ensure that refugees receive the basic support that they need, and to provide hospitality, support and care.

This morning’s Bible study was led by Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini, Bishop of Eswatini in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who chose as her theme: ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise’ (Isaiah 60: 18).

She asked us what forms of violence do people in our countries or contexts today; what does the phrase ‘violence shall no more be heard in your land’ mean to us and in our contexts today; how can we apply the concepts of ‘walls called Salvation, and your gates called Praise’ to unified and secure community in our contexts; and what practical steps can we take to assure our communities and church spaces reflect the salvation and praise spoken of by Isaiah?

Bishop Dalcy is the second woman bishop in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and the fourth woman bishop in Southern Africa. She succeeded Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, who died of Covid-related causes early in 2020.

After an early career as a primary school teacher, Dr Dlamini was ordained in the Diocese of Swaziland in 2006, and her experiences include parochial ministry and school and university chaplaincy. She has PhD in Practical Theology from the University of Pretoria.

She moved to the Diocese of St Mark in 2020, and was Diocesan Dean of Studies and Rector and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Polokwane. She has been involved in the international Anglican/Lutheran Commission and the Steering Group of the International Anglican Women’s Network.

Bishop Dalcy is leading the Bible studies throughout this week, bringing fresh perspectives on leadership, faith and community.

This afternoon’s keynote speaker was Bishop Anderson Jeremiah, the new Bishop of Edmonton and a suffragan bishop of the Diocese of London. He spoke of geographical border-making and how borders have been used to define, exclude and control and as a ‘Euro-centric’ creation.

He compared this with the symbolic borders defining identity and belonging, the difference between the sacred and the profane, the secular and the religious, and defining who belongs within religious communities, differentiating between the ‘pure’ and the ‘impure’.

Borders are geographical, but they can also be intellectual, political, ideological, doctrinal and theological, he pointed out.

He also discussed the rise of far-right populism across Europe and the way far-right politicians use borders to garner support among people who feel alienated by changes in society.

He contrasted these ideas with the preaching of the Kingdom of God by Jesus found in Saint John’s Gospel, redrawing and crossing the borders created by both the Roman Empire and the religious political and cultural authorities of his day.

He also quoted: ‘So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’ (Ephesians 2: 19-22, NRSV).

He invited us to compare this with the emphasis in the Message version: ‘That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all –irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.’

He challenged us to face up to the borders and new boundaries we construct in our communities, and to reorient ourselves in the Church. He called us to critical pilgrimage and prophetic rebellion, decentring ourselves and constantly questioning authorities, offering radical theological alternatives rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Bishop Anderson Jeremiah was born in Tamil Nadu in India in 1975 and studied at the University of Madras, the University of Edinburgh and the United Theological College, Bangalore. He has served in hospital and university chaplaincy in India and in parish ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Until recently, he was the canon theologian in the Diocese of Blackburn and Associate Dean (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and People) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University. He was consecrated bishop by Archbishop Justin Welby in Canterbury in April and was installed as the Bishop of Edmonton in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in May. He is married to the Revd Dr Rebecca Aechtner and they are the parents of two daughters.

His commitment to justice and peace, rooted in his experience as a Dalit Christian, has set a powerful tone for the conference.

Later this afternoon there was a choice between workshops.

‘Beyond Borders’ was a workshop on Gender Justice and female leadership in the Anglican Church. This workshop was led by USPG Senior Regional Managers Fran Mate and the Revd Davidson Solanki and explored the opportunities, strengths, and challenges for female leadership in the Anglican Church.

‘The Past in the Present’ was a workshop on Mission, Empire and Racial Justice. This workshop was facilitated by Dr Jo Sadgrove, the Revd Dr Evie Vernon and the Revd Garfield Campbell, and explored the legacies of a history marked by slavery and racism and the possibilities in the present.

‘Seeing Differently’ was an interactive workshop using a real-life case study, recognising and revealing attitudes leading to exclusion of others in plain sight. There were examples of Gypsy Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches.

This choice of workshops is being offered at the conference again tomorrow.

The other speakers this week include the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral, and Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France. Brandon works along border lines and his day-to-day experience of ministry in Calais is expected to bring many of this week’s discussions to life.

A walk in the countryside near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire before today’s rainstorms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
61, Tuesday 9 July 2024

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them’ (Matthew 9: 36) … the theme of this week’s USPG conference is ‘United Beyond Borders’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and the week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). I arrived late yesterday at the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) begins today (9 July) and continues until Thursday (11 July).

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection in connection with this week’s USPG conference;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

In the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, the venue for the USPG Conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Matthew 9: 32-38 (NRSVUE):

32 After they had gone away, a demon-possessed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees were saying, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”

Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini is leading the Bible studies at the USPG conference this week

This morning’s reflection:

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) begins this morning in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and continues until Thursday.

The conference theme this week is ‘United Beyond Borders’, and I intend to continue to reflect on the conference in this prayer diary throughout this week.

I met a number of key USPG staff members over dinner yesterday and later in the evening. The conference opens this morning with worship at 11 am and a Bible study at noon led by Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini, Bishop of Eswatini in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She is the second woman bishop in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and she is leading the Bible studies throughout this week, bringing fresh perspectives on leadership, faith and community.

Bishop Anderson Jeremiah, the new Bishop of Edmonton and a suffragan bishop of the Diocese of London, is this afternoon’s keynote speaker at 2:30. He was consecrated bishop by Archbishop Justin Welby in Canterbury Cathedral on 25 April and was installed as the Bishop of Edmonton in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 19 May. His commitment to justice and peace, rooted in his experience as a Dalit Christian, is expected to set a powerful tone for the conference.

The other speakers this week include the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral, and Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France. Brandon works along border lines and his day-to-day experience of ministry in Calais is expected to bring many of this week’s discussions to life.

In his welcome to the conference, the General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, writes:

‘It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this year’s USPG conference, United Beyond Borders. I am looking forward greatly to our time together, to warmly welcoming friends, old and new, and to come together, reflect and learn. We will be challenged and inspired by guest speakers and contributors from across the Anglican Communion including the Right Revd Anderson Jeremiah, the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, Bradon Muilenburg and the Right Revd Dalcy Badeli Dlamini.

‘A few weeks ago I was with Bradon in Calais as the guest of a joint refugee action project between the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG. The project seeks to ensure that refugees receive the basic support that they need, and to provide hospitality, support and care. This is part of what we’re called to as a Church – following Christ in standing alongside those who seek safety and refuge. I pray that we will leave this conference feeling inspired, encouraged and refreshed to return to our communities emboldened to pray and speak and act with a love like Jesus’ that unites beyond borders.’

Bishop Anderson Jeremiah of Edmonton … this afternoon’s keynote speaker at the USPG conference in High Leigh

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 9 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘United Beyond Borders.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with reflections on this week’s USPG conference by Rachael Anderson, Senior Communications and Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Tuesday 9 July 2024) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray today for the safe travel of all people to the USPG conference. May all preparations go smoothly.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Creator God,
you made us all in your image:
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Lord, we pray today for the safe travel of all people to the USPG conference’ (USPG Prayer Diary) … a walk in the trees at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

08 July 2024

Back in High Leigh
for a USPG conference
after a journey through
Bedford and Cambridge

A return visit to Sidney Sussex College in this afternoon’s summer sunshine in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I am on my way this evening from Cambridge to Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and to the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon, where the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is taking place this week.

I caught an early bus from Milton Keynes to Bedford, and during a brief stopover I went to see the rowing clubs by the River Ouse and in search of the sites of the mediaeval Jewish community and the later 19th century synagogues on High Street, before catching a connecting bus to Cambridge.

I was last in Cambridge in June 2019, on my way to and from that year’s USPG conference in High Leigh. This afternoon’s visit to Cambridge was an opportunity to refresh old memories, to return to Sidney Sussex College, to see the last of the summer wisteria there, to see the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) at Wesley House and Westcott House on Jesus Lane, to stroll by the Backs and to visit some churches and some of my favourite bookshops, before catching a train to Broxbourne, the nearest station to Hoddesdon.

Looking for the last of this year’s wisteria in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I arrived at High Leigh late this afternoon, in time for dinner, and may go for a stroll back into Hoddesdon later this evening.

I was first in High Leigh 18 years ago when I was the chaplain in 2006 at the annual conference of the Friends of the Church in China and the China Forum of CTBI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland). Since then, my journeys to and from conferences in High Leigh have offered opportunities to explore nearby towns such as Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, Saffron Walden and Newport in Essex, to visit Rye House, the venue of the Rye House Plot in 1683, or to return to Cambridge.

My first USPG conference was in Swanwick in Derbyshire in 2008, and I have been at USPG conferences in Swanwick and High Leigh almost every year since then. I missed last year’s conference in Yarnfield Park in Stone, Staffordshire, on the theme of ‘Justice and the Church,’ because I was in Dublin working on a television documentary with a production company from Montenegro. But it is hard to believe that is now two years since I have been at High Leigh and at a USPG conference.

This year’s conference theme in High Leigh is ‘United Beyond Borders’ and the guest speakers and contributors include Bishop Anderson Jeremiah of Edmonton, the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School, Bradon Muilenburg who is working with refugees in Calais and Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini (Swaziland), who is leading the Bible studies each morning.

The conference is an opportunity be inspired, encouraged and refreshed, and to hear about USPG’s support work with refugees in northern France, where they need hospitality, support and care, to engage with topics such as gender justice and racial justice, and the intertwined legacies of slavery and racism, colonialism and empire. They are topics that are also timely and sensitive given the rise of the far-right in elections in recent days in both the UK and France, fuelled by racism and intolerance towards refugees and asylum seekers.

I am looking forward to the opportunities the conference brings to meet many old friends, to hear from the guest speakers and to engage with workshops and Bible studies. And I am also looking forward to walks in the countryside and by the rivers in a part of East Anglia that I have now known for almost 20 years.

Walking by the River Ouse in this morning’s summer sunshine in Bedford on the way to High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Hoddesdon and Broxbourne are in a part of Hertfordshire that typifies the English countryside and picture-postcard English towns and villages. As a travelled on the train from Cambridge to Broxbourne I enjoyed the views of the fields and countryside described by Betjeman as

… Clothed, thank the Lord, in summer green,
Pale corn waves rippling to a shore
The shadowy cliffs of elm between,

Colour-washed cottages reed-thatched
And weather-boarded water mills,
Flint churches, brick and plaster patched,
On mildly undistinguished hills


In his poem ‘Hertfordshire’, Betjeman recalls trudging through these fields in his childhood, and he returns to this area, perhaps at this time of the year, to find some of those fields are still there, but the Hertfordshire he knew as a child has been devastated by the spread of urbanisation,

Its gentle landscape strung with wire,
Old places looking ill and strange.

One can’t be sure where London ends,
New towns have filled the fields of root ...

Tall concrete standards line the lane,
Brick boxes glitter in the sun …


But in the sunshine and ‘summer green’ this week, I expect to enjoy some walks through these “mildly undistinguished hills” and lanes, and through welcoming fields, to find some timber-framed houses and pubs, and, perhaps, some ‘Flint churches, brick and plaster patched.’

The White Swan on the High Street in Hoddesdon … a timber-framed Hertfordshire pub rated by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Hertfordshire’ by John Betjeman

I had forgotten Hertfordshire,
The large unwelcome fields of roots
Where with my knickerbockered sire
I trudged in syndicated shoots;

And that unlucky day when I
Fired by mistake into the ground
Under a Lionel Edwards sky
And felt disapprobation round.

The slow drive home by motor-car,
A heavy Rover Landaulette,
Through Welwyn, Hatfield, Potters Bar,
Tweed and cigar smoke, gloom and wet:

“How many times must I explain
The way a boy should hold a gun?”
I recollect my father’s pain
At such a milksop for a son.

And now I see these fields once more
Clothed, thank the Lord, in summer green,
Pale corn waves rippling to a shore
The shadowy cliffs of elm between,

Colour-washed cottages reed-thatched
And weather-boarded water mills,
Flint churches, brick and plaster patched,
On mildly undistinguished hills—

They still are there. But now the shire
Suffers a devastating change,
Its gentle landscape strung with wire,
Old places looking ill and strange.

One can’t be sure where London ends,
New towns have filled the fields of root
Where father and his business friends
Drove in the Landaulette to shoot;

Tall concrete standards line the lane,
Brick boxes glitter in the sun:
Far more would these have caused him pain
Than my mishandling of a gun.